Poem of the Day - Archive

San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck is curating a Poem of the Day with San Francisco Public Library for every day during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check daily for new poetic offerings from assorted local poets.

Here is an archive of the previous Poems of the Day:


Plague of 2020
by Mahnaz Badihian


Came crueler than the criminals
more robust than a cannon and a gun
more significant than the world economy
and redder than Stalin’s red army
Corona came with a lesson for all
more important than
the experiences of Rumi
bigger than Plato’s advice
Scared us away to hide
in the holes of our houses all alone
fear of hunger grows in us
more significant than the fear of world hunger
We rushed to fill our shelves
with bread and cheese
fill our bowls with food and seeds
and attack the shops filled with
fear and despair
Corona had ordered us
to empty the streets
to stop our jobs
and build the fear of death
Like a sun ray did not differentiate between
black and white
poor and rich
powerful and powerless
Came to relive the suffocated breath of nature
to calm the wounded plains
to revive the sick nature from pollution
Corona had come to strip us naked
of pride, prejudice, and greed
It was so small
that wasn’t visible
and so big that every day
carried hundreds of people with him
to bury them in a mass graves


Video: Mahnaz Badihian at the San Francisco Public Library


by Roopa Ramamoorthi


Ujjayi breaths, deep inhale and exhale through restricted epiglottis
Calming, slow, to take my mind off other breaths
The 8.46 minutes, “I cannot breathe” of
George Floyd, knee to neck

Of Union Carbide, methyl isocyanate gas leak in Bhopal in ‘84
St. Xavier’s junior college, my friend and I going to the payphone
Calling her mother. Her father had been in Bhopal
but had left in time. Unlike 500,000 others
who could not leave

The creeping corona
My fear of it any minute infiltrating my father’s eighty year old lungs
And his being more than 8000 miles from me
And breath could become belabored,
and gone

And I still sit and go on
With Kapalbhati or fire breath
The quick exhale
Knowing while I breathe
The flames of protest burn
In Oakland and Atlanta, Minneapolis and Michigan
And mixing with the unseen fire of the Corona
Spreading from one soul to the other
A conflagration escalating rapidly

For those who cannot just sit on a cushion
And shut their eyes

And of course the echoes of Rodney King’s
“Why can’t we all just get along”
Me a grad student in LA, blocks of store fronts boarded
Once the riots began after the officers were acquitted

Twenty years, so much has changed
and still

So much not, as I take in
Breath after breath, and moving
to Shavasana
Or corpse pose
For stillness, just temporary
And voluntary
In my case


Video: Roopa Ramamoorthi at the San Francisco Public Library


1st Generation Decolonized Bilinguista
by Josiah Luis Alderete


Listen carefully,
You have to blur your voz.

We must be mindful and make the distinction
that our mispronunciations are not their mispronunciations,
-it is a completely diferente thing to mispronounce something
because you are trying to colonize it
than to mispronounce something because you are trying to get back to it…

Because, you see…
mispronunciations of our historias, our births, our deaths
are vital around here.

So in order to counter that colonized desmadre,
talk with a mouthful of abuelas,
talk out of the side of your mouth that does not speak English or Spanish.
If you can get an ancestor of yours to mumble
I would encourage that.
Shout inside your rib cage so that the espiritus can hear the echo and find their way back here,
so that they can know what kind of place we are in,
so that they know which direction we are going.

Every day practice slurring the words that they have given us,
try to smudge their meaning as much as you can,
you are really trying to get a tone
that allows you to speak to one bone after another,
so that eventually you will have the entire esqueleto in front of you
and without a doubt
it will understand what we ware saying.


Video: Josiah Luis Alderete at the San Francisco Public Library


Poem of the Day
by Abe Becker


                 I                              i          
       thing    like                 p       t            
    only             about      a           a        
  the                              c                 l
               is                            m
                        is drawing
cat faces                                 as my credit
                         card sig
                       s              n
                     e                 a
                     r        u         t

     not hating myself for being poor
not hating myself for hating myself for that
not a therapist in my price range not student loan debt
not trampled greeter costs of Black Friday discounts
not my mom’s dejected response to my response to
presents not shopping for my dad’s urn not sweatshop-
severed fingertips not robocall robots’ HELL-O! not the guy
on the radio displaced by the Camp Fire whose insurance
only covered floods saying they know it won’t flood in
the mountains not homeless encampments under overpasses
not sex traffic not panhandlers’ pets not pyramid schemes
not packaging not the ocean plastic blob not every job I fought
in my deepest self to get out of bed for again not CUStOmeR
SerVIcEVoICe not being pissed the Warriors left Oakland
even though I haven’t been able to afford tickets since they
stopped sucking not people not looking up at breakdance buskers
on BART or the sky not valuing paper stamped with anything
but weird art not Bezos not Amazon rainforest clear cut
not feeling like I can’t ask out my prettiest swipe/match in
months because she listed among her interests nice things
not schoolkids hostage to the gun lobby not weapons exports
not tourists not the shock of the receptionist in Hawaii
when I thanked her for telling me where the bathroom was
the only thing I like about capitalism is drawing cat faces
as my credit card signatures there’s a bakery where I get ½ off
because that’s funny I guess I always wanted them to ask
how I pronounce cat face & sob uncontrollably in response
always wanted to lift the latch on their counter & watch
as they run off I always imagined a socialist cowgirl
waltzing into where I work asking if I want her
to smack me & when I nod she smacks my behind & hollers GIT! not like I’m ever
going to get rich
like I’m free


The Dumb Class
by c. 2020 the estate of Reginald Lockett


They didn’t use nice terms
Like learning disabled to describe us,
the students in Miss Cornish’s
basement classroom
at Longfellow Elementary,
next to the storage rooms
where the janitors
kept big push brooms, mops,
buckets and huge barrels
of industrial cleansers, soap,
and wax.

We were just dumb, retarded,
or slow, embarrassments
to brothers, sisters, and cousins
who disowned us the second
their feet entered the schoolyard gate.

I was the youngest at eight
and the only one in the right grade.
The others were older, like Carlene,
Fresh from Arkansas, who was twelve
In the third grade, dipped snuff,
and chewed tobacco;
Theodis, who was fourteen
In the fifth and kept
being held back because
he spent most of the year
locked up in juvenile hall;
and Billy Boo, was sixteen
in the sixth and wore a wavy process
teased into a big pompadour,
and had a ditty-bop walk.

That year,
While Miss Cornish read
Better Homes and Gardens
And let the class run wild,
I taught myself to write

In longhand and how to do
third, fourth, and fifth grade arithmetic
after the new colored school nurse
discovered I needed glasses,
a pair of glasses.


View Reginald Lockett's work in the Library catalog


One Star
by Janice Gould


One star gleams above the dark edge of the mountains,
One star or one planet, bright with reflected light.

One moon shines down on the valley west of here,
Floating in hazy clouds. One bird calls from the piñón,

Only one, and one mountain, far south, snow on its flanks,
grows distinct in the dusky glimmer before dawn. I wish

I had tobacco and sweet grass to make an offering to the night,
to give myself fully to prayer, to reside in the song of that bird.

I want to be without words, without speech, to find my way
into a language so fine it becomes nothing but melody.


View Janice Gould's work in the Library catalog


Blues for Malcolm X
by Al Young


When I decided to go hear you speak
that week, it was Oakland, it was way out
west, it was long before Blue Tooth tech,
it was youth, way beck before the truth
got put on commission. I was older
than the early Sixties, younger than the rain.

It was when a café colleague declined
my invitation for her to join me to catch you
that I got it right. She was white.
She declined. She declared: “No, you go.
I don’t think he’ll like me very much.”
My political black friends- none of them
had the time, either. I took the bus.

To bust the chops of the integrationists-
your mission exactly. You carried it out
with charisma and charm. For dignity
and equality you spoke. “I love all black,
brown, red and yellow people, “ you said
at the close of your spellbinding talk.
Then you blew us kisses. This is memory.

Now the very government that shot you
down for dead has made you postage,
stampable, sendable, official at last.
Does this surprise you? Official history
-a snake that hisses, a snake that hushes-
smoothes you out, burnishes. I still prefer
the kids who called you Malcolm Ten.

They didn’t know where to hide you, so
They put you on a stamp. With Booker T.,
Who wouldn’t sit with Woodrow Wilson
And the first Lady at his White House Dinner,
You wanted us to separate and split.
And that was it: You, Malcolm X, would fix
The system with the ballot or the bullet
May these blues clarify your red position.


View Al Young's work in the Library catalog


For Stephen Kopel
by Cesar Love


If I could rhyme like a mockingbird
If I could pun like a stripper who never once blushed

If I could harness that invisible wave
A wave something like the space-time continuum
But beyond calculus, beyond probability

A wave morphing quarks and quasars into verbs and nouns
A wave sometimes corkscrew, on occasion paisley
A wave often curveball, now and then knuckleball

Perhaps if I had a window seat on a satellite
Maybe if I had a spaceship in my garage
Then I could cameo at open mics across the galaxy
Then I might be a shaman of words like Stephen Kopel
But alas, I have no spaceship
Still, I am grateful this comet crossed my path


View Cesar Love's work in the Library catalog

Video: Cesar Love at the San Francisco Public Library


The Lesson
(June 1, 2020)
by Craig Santos Perez


what if

the pandemic

is trying

to teach us

how to




View Craig Santos Perez's work in the Library catalog


Teachings of moss
by Jenny Davis


Today I attended talks
by a panel of sidewalk mosses
They said surviving
in places not meant for us
sometimes looks like fitting in
but that our bodies can also
make those structures visible
Sometimes it means making these
spaces a little bit more comfortable
for the next generations
whose roots will
be strong enough to tear it all
down from the ground up
and sometimes it means being
willing to be turned over ourselves
in the process. Becoming a part
of something new in the process
        webbing for fungal networks
We do not need to fight for the barren
structures around us just because
we have never had the chance
to taste deep soil


Video: Jenny Davis at the San Francisco Public Library


June 2020
by Abena Songbird


This path I walk is cloaked in silence
as masked we witness this merciless patch smother our smiles
My wolf teeth are hurting/grinding and gnashing
chomp on this - it hurts to digest life
speak no evil/ though there is so much
The heart is heavy with the weight of consequences, choices I had no part in
our every dawn is eclipsed as is the consciousness of the sun
my closest friend…
a blinding Corona bores into our pupils
sucking the very air from our lungs
burning to memory echoes of history
of blankets baked in pox
from bat to market – this path is a tattoo
marked by mass graves in Brazil
New York’s refrigerated trucks of corpses
The new snake - a ventilator’s hiss pounds out a rhythm
fester from its bite is frothing anger – an impossible weight of collective rage and grief
missing and murdered Native women, Black and Brown murders in the streets, this virus is killing us
 the poor are dying, the old and vulnerable are toppling
Bad Cops emboldened by the cuckoo tweet of presidential spew – ‘White Power’
Like a nerve agent cutting a wide swath of destruction/ the Donald is the new Agent Orange
The earth rumbles, supporting this heavy weight…it shifts
fear is palpable
I don’t know if I can ever make another poem
I don’t know if I can ever sing another song

Impossible breath
slowed down to 16 rpm now sped to 78 rpm
climates in quandary…crisis/ breath erratic, no breath – “I can’t Breathe”…
dams bursting an explosion of tears
blue smoke peppers the streets
hails of rubber bullets
rivers of black and brown blood
a chorus of injustices rise behind the patches swarming
the choir is stronger with combined voices/yet we must remember, not to drown each of our solos
What evokes calm?  Ceremony
What evokes calm?  Ritual
the quill, the beads, the drum, the song we take up
A steady rope of weave
Sweet grass/umbilical
one true thing/ a tap root
something eternal
ancestral ties
night gardens spring up = tobacco in the four corners
where is the Victory?
Rise up the Natural World!
microscopic detail – luna moths, salamanders return
herds of deer
mark the path /the spiral fractual
Pods of dolphin claim Venice canal
Mountain sheep storm through London town
A mountain lion struts through Embarcadero in San Francisco unheeded
as it was their place/ struggling to renew
as we struggle to survive


by Kimi Sugioka


Let the moon interrupt
the sun
till tides cleanse
this empire
of sons and fathers
whose fortunes rest
on the skulls
and bones
of the ravaged,
conquered and

Let fire ebb from coals of rain
and loose the fragrance of cedar
and sage to
bare the seam of
morning to the
hem of night
to ignite in us
the audacious tenacity
of the ancestors who
earned and won
our continuance

Cover the face with earth
Twine life
with death,
that one remembers
the other in all
acts and intentions

Bloody the ax
to exact
humility from hubris

Summon the kestrel and
the dove
that they may
nest and procreate
within this crown of thorns

Let the moon interrupt
the sun’s momentum
till the tides cleanse
this siege of degeneration

May all beings
flex the muscle of love
and tend to the wounds
of the world


View Kimi Sugioka's work in the Library catalog

Video: Kimi Sugioka at the San Francisco Public Library


by Benjamin Bacsierra


Amor is the root
Seed is the root
Dirt is the root
Root is the root

The Bean is born

The frontline emerges
Out of

Coffee Indio
Concrete Indio
From the Bean
In the jungle
To the streets
In the city
The Bean
Holds its head

Beans are good for you
Protein makes you strong
Builds muscle
They are clean
From the ground

Beans are
The Beans in
Jack and the Beanstalk

Don’t you know it is
Not an insult but
An Honor
To be a


View Benjamin Bacsierra's work in the Library catalog


(inspired by the Music of Erik Jekabson)
by Avotcja


I was asleep
Secure & comfortably asleep
Dreaming of peace & love
By a mirage of unity & togetherness
Dancing away demons of war & hate In what I thought was a
Land of plenty In what I’d been taught was the land of the free
Then I opened my eyes
Was slapped in the face
By a wide awake nightmare
A senseless, suicidal madness
A world of selfishness Insatiable gluttony & rampant homelessness
Created by
Masters of fantasy
So used to
Dealing from their deck of unfulfillable promises
That they can no longer feel anything real I opened my eyes
And found myself sadly looking at
Those who are empty inside
And seem to think they can fill their emptiness
With all kinds of pretty things & tons of money &
More & more money & the newest prettier things
And all I could do is cry
Cry for those blindly drunk on greed as I write
And smile as another
Poem is born
A Poem About all the beauty the greedy can no longer see I believe If we
Artists could only bottle our tears
No one would ever die of thirst
Our tears would become unifying melodies
Creative love filled organic harmonious medicine
And we… an inspiring army of creativity Just might be able to Heal the World… one note at a time


View Avotcja's work in the Library catalog

Video: Avotcja at the San Francisco Public Library


“My Angels Must Be Very Strong”
by Val Ibarra


my angels must be very strong
‘cause no one sits next to me
on a loading bus
until it becomes
a last option

I wonder why

I check the width of my thigh
and it doesn’t overlap
my clothes and body are clean
my hair may be a bit of a trap
but my sunglasses paint me cool
it’s true

But why wouldn’t you
sit with me
if I look aloof
and I’m not glued
to my handheld tool

Why am I left
to sit alone
like a loon
swimming in unlikely elbow room


by Dee Allen


Most Black men
In the U.S.A. have
An oppressor’s leather boot
Applied to their necks.

George Floyd
Died untimely
With the knee of
Police repression on his.

George Floyd
Complained of
The knee’s pressure, restricting his oxygen.
He couldn’t breathe—we couldn’t breathe.

Derek Chauvin
Never respected the life he
Detained with his leg. His partner watched,
Took notes on how lynching’s done.

George Floyd
Died on
A Monday.
From another’s power-madness.

George Floyd
Was avenged on
A Thursday.
With fire.

Derek Chauvin
Has plenty to answer for.

One cop’s career for
One defenceless Black life. A well-deserved gift
                          from karma.

The only good
Cop shop existing
Is the one
Laying in ashes.

W: 5.30.2020
[ For George Floyd—1973 – 2020. ]


View Dee Allen's work in the Library catalog

Video: Dee Allen at the San Francisco Public Library


by Ramona Webb

Dedicated to my father Wallace H. Webb and my Great Uncle Lewis Howard Latimer


“When I die my soul will be a star
Way up high but close to where you are
When I die my soul will be a star
Way up high but guiding you afar”
(-Lewis Howard Latimer)

For My Father:

When my father was dying a restless light swam about his tongue
Soft glow of the soul swirling in a death rattle alerting us to the newness on its way

The light at the end of the first darkness is birth
The light at the end of the last darkness is death

The light in my family is a generational gift
I feel the genius of the light
It is in my veins, my mother put it there

Lewis Howard Latimer invented the first permanent carbon filament of the light bulb patent number 247,097 on August 13, 1881 for years the electric light bulb carried his initials L.H.L.

For Uncle Lewis:

We descendants of the light hold it close cast it about the world
filling black hearts with pride
We are the light bearers casting light into the the unknown and unseen clearing the way to a certain truth about the brilliance in blackness

It guides the hand of a poet unsung
A still guiding light
It was the light of the radio and the vision that followed that stopped me in hurricane Katrina
Saved my life 20 minutes from a bridge that would have lead to a certain death
Like a lighthouse of the soul , spirit turned me round
After the storm it was the light I missed most
Like a somber moon
Like a daydream held captive in the eye of chaos


When cancer rolled up my fathers chest and sung a deep breath
It was a fallen darkness picked from the night sky a blanket of stars and silver linings his gaze fixed on through the window while waiting to cross
And when the moment came
And moment did come
I watched the light escape in his eyes

The moment of graceful ascension is like a heart beat held in sweetness A sudden bloom in February A sassafras kiss A weeping willows waving goodbye in the distance Eyes that smile without sadness and the arrival home follows the light

The Light:

Uncle Lewis
The constellations of Star lead your parents Rebecca and George Latimer to
run freedom down
Run north from Virginia to Massachusetts
and run over
and run through
and run beyond
and run haa
and run haaa
and run haaaa
to give birth to you
to give birth to the light that would illuminate the world


When I die my soul will be a star
Way up high but close to where you are
When I die my soul will also be a star
Way up high but guiding generations to come from afar


July 4, 2018
by Peter Kline


              “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border.  Period.”
               Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen

The families assembled here are waiting.
We’ve been told the spectacle will soon begin.
Somewhere on the horizon a man with a button
will press it when the light feels right to him.

Shudder and Ah: the dismembered threads of rainbows
stitch the past to the future, again, again.
Then a pause.  The silence is reloaded.
Smoke settles on the neapolitan.



by c. Shem Korngold 2020


my simulacra do not
fit inside your letterboxes

my emoticons do not
reflect your pixelations

my unhinged front doors
skulk around the edges of your
banquet hall campaign dinners

my forest floor mycelia
often appear bemused by your
chewing gum stained sidewalks

my earthworms
thrash about In your
cracked concrete rain puddles

my good hair
when oiled up and shining
sublimates your disdainful glances

my itinerant amalgamations
interpolate your purposefully designed

my inner crunchy Beavis
feels simultaneously repulsed by
and drawn to your

my market driven cycles of therapeutic release
get tripped up at every turn
by your swarms of deep data driven drone hordes
3D-Nano-printing endless piles of Neo-Freudian desires
every time I risk it
and step out from under the protective shield
of my inner sanctum

my adverse childhood experience survival maps
pair exquisitely
with your trauma triggered psychotic interludes

my heart dreams
clouded over by probable coronary artery bypass surgeries
ache for your
laparoscopically removed gallbladder insights

my inner sense of nothingness
smelling of ozone and tobacco
desperately needs a hug
from your indignant sense of self righteousness
red wine
and heat
rising in waves

I give it a good practiced throw
and my kidney stone
skips 19 times across
to the farther shore
of your steaming pool of bile

my awkward approximations
of antiquated analogue interfaces
are not quite capable of successfully coupling with your
carefully crafted drop down menus of
indefinitely recombinable mood textures
but the resultant ripples of distortion and static
can be surprisingly genuine

my melancholy personifications of
condemned 20th century brick tenements
harsh the swoony buzz of your
with incredible walk score

my rootless cosmopolitan nonchalance
unnerves your hard fought provincial sense of
well rootedness

the fanning cracks
in the corners of my rose colored sunglasses
reveal infinitely recurring fractals
of your harsh realities

and like a cunning linguist
caught in somebody else’s
glass bead game

I revel in the gratuitous pleasures
of submerging myself in the staccato rhythms
of a crumbling empire’s lingua franca
steeped in the street creoles of creative resistance
at the bottoms of the turtle stacks

I talk my smack
drink my coffee black
no cream
no sugar
put a little bit of cinnamon in it
or maybe lace me up with some of that Similac


Quarantine Poem #5
by Nazelah Jamison


my brain is devouring itself
savory simmering obsessive thoughts
spiced with anxiety and
salty resentments
in a thick frustrating stew
it is the perfect recipe for insanity
my most frequent conversations lately
are with inanimate objects:
the walls, my laptop
minor characters in the horror sci-fi books
and movies i regularly ingest
i plea with them to run, fight
look behind them, stay out of shadows
as i dwell in my very own stephen king universe
my neighbors have become masked marauders
we cross the street from each other and
avoid eye contact
a tickle in my throat in public is illegal
physical affection is lethal
and i literally cannot show my face
at my local grocery store
it is just as well
there is plenty of paranoia and ice cream
at my house
a cabinet full of conspiracy theories
a stale package of hope
in the back of my freezer
and an endless feast of gray matter
for me and the ravenous
post-apocalypse zombies
when they inevitably arrive



by A.D. Winans


As a child I thrilled
To the railroad trains
Riding out of the badlands
Not knowing they were owned
By robber barons
I watched the Cavalry charge
The Indian villages like Attila the Hun
Believing Custer a hero and
Sitting Bull a savage
Not taught in school about the
Deadly smallpox plague
Diseased blankets traded Indians
For title to their land
A secret plot to murder an entire nation
Generations of ripped-off cultures
Gather in the museum of history
Dolphins die in tuna fishermen's nets
While pelican eggs refuse to hatch
Victim of man’s greed and waste
As the blistered hands
Of faceless migrant workers
Reach out for a token of respect
Only to find death in pesticide laded food
The tools of revolution laid aside
Rusting from affluence and false security
The dreams of thousands upon thousands
Of brave warriors lay buried in unmarked graves
No historical monument will make mention of them
Their children buried in graves so small
Their parents wear them in their hearts like
An anchor weighed to the tip of their tongue
I slip back in time
I’m driving down Highway One where California fertile hills wink at me
Giant trees and seashore merge as one
Cloud banks ride the horizon like
Red Cloud rode the plains
In search of the last buffalo
Sweet mango's and watermelon wine
Sweet as cotton candy
Stuck to the roots of my tongue
Fed my youth nourished my spirit
The poem the language in my soul
Your body indented against mine
Hot as an iron pressed to a garment
Youthful hunger that knew no bounds
Feasted like a condemned man
Devouring his last meal
The way Eskimos used to swallow
The tears of the dying
To keep the one gone with them


View A.D. Winans's work in the Library catalog


Pink Moon Remembers Lebanon’s Lost Daughters
by Cassandra Rockwood Rice Ganem

*There are two italicized, loosely translated poem excerpts in this piece that come from the Temple Hymns of Enhuduanna, the first known poet in human existence (23rd Century BC)
*Sections XIV and XV were featured online in April at www.dearquarantinediary.com


I see the orphan image
and wonder if I’ll ever get there, Saida.
Phonetically like ‘oar’ and ‘fan’,
we moved through water,
we rise like the wind.

I hear the fatherland returns
again and again like a phoenix,
burnt and rebuilt at least seven times.
Haven’t I overcome so much without you?
Is it enough to prove my strain?

Lebanon, phoenix-land
where prophets once sat beneath Cedars
drinking clay-fermented wine,

where mosques and churches
sleep on same streets.
But here, I’m only one of your children deprived,
equivalent to two young animals who have lost
their mother, now running in different directions.

Or three uncovered birds,
refused some protection
from the storm.

I am a first line (as of a paragraph)
separated from text and appearing
at the bottom of a column.

Because what are [we] called if [they] leave ?
What are we called if we leave?
What are they called if they leave?

Are our names thrown violently in sand?
Inhabited like hermit crab shells?
Only worn as a house robe is (when naked)?

—I have been named
—I have his name
—He gave it to me when I was born

:now see how everyone knows
I belong to him: I belong to Mount Lebanon—
life-breath roused,
oar moving through thick air
of the unnamed, now mobilized.
Ancient Phoenicians knew the power of language.
Ancient princesses knew:
        your princess [this] princess of Silence
        when she speaks heaven shakes,
        open-mouthed she roars.

A great bird folds his wings,
on one knee, he waits,
exit sign flashing,
cucumber iris full of mint,
mouth of pomegranate,
language of seeds hard to excavate.

If the river holds names
then there is no water
for departed ones.

So I put the oar in air
and nothing happens.
The child is born, her parents wrap her in palms, name her:
She is mine. My daughter. My child. My baby.
She has his name. Name. Name. Name. Surname.
See how each word is a bright red petal?
Her botany is identifiable.

In Arab cultures the nisba (نسبة) is the name of the ancestral tribe,
following a family through generations:

When we have lost our [homeland(s)],
When we are deprived our [name(s)],
when we are severed our [parent(s)]:

There is no related text.

—I am a familial subgenre,
—I am a side street or alley,
—I don’t even make it on the map.

Whose eyes are slanting back at me?
I search the window of a goat’s eye,
long to walk the temple of Astarte,
or look for him in Merwah wine,
yearn to listen to shells on the banks of the Mediterranean.
This is the physics of desertion.
Orphan means:
Can I tie my cut rope to you?
Can I fit my puzzle piece to yours?
Might I wet and crosshatch the clay?
Might I fit the slip for bonding?

I scrape off scar and scab
to make a place for place and namesake to enter,
re-opening, and always being wet enough
to take a stranger, because who else is there?

Severance from father—severed culture.
As one thing cleaves from another, one loss loses another.
A chip off the oldest blocks, one third of a world away:
—Distance around the world: 24,901 miles.
—Distance from San Francisco to a struggling Beirut: 7,281 miles.
—Distance from my father’s heart to mine:  
Aleph-naught with no bijective function.
There is no one-to-one and no number for this,
no relatedness to find the center of one billion times,
no eternity to prove.

The orphan hides behind the pupil.
The orphan is the opposite of infinity.
The orphan is a black hole
pulling so much that even light is pulled.
With an oar moving into the wind,
as from the force of a fan propelled,

We are the only true form of human flotation.
Undefinable by laws of physics,

this distance I feel
standing next to a woman

holding her father’s name,
held in fingers lightly since birth like a fig,

sweetened with the honey-musk
of her shepherd family.

The same distance I feel
when I map the fathom length

from fingertip-to-fingertip
across continent to sea to continent to sea.

           So, from your skin of bricks
           on the rim of the holy hill,
           green as mountains,
           you determine fates,
          whirlpool spins in your river,
          blowing whirlwinds
         spawn from your glance,
         what comes in cannot be equaled,
         what goes out never ceases          

Father, I’m treading water,
come take this oar

and place a palm in my hand.
Or even just a pit.
Something to keep my mind off the no land in sight.

Bees surround her face now, drink nectar
from beads of sweat on her crown,

you rest your heads, one by one,  
on her chest without observation.

Amulet of citrus in April, thistle
and honeydew in June, her scrawl

is found on the Cedar trees, leaves of juniper,
crystalline etchings in natural sugar.

Violent winds rouse red earth as she hurls
herself in rivers of vermillion hues.

And we’ll take back our grape leaves
to wrap the rice in,
and tobacco for our water pipes,
wheat fields spanning feral as her Arab hair.

Voiceless Jezebel looks on with olivine eyes,
moving through water, and over the once blue seas,
where man had sailed and returned
to scorn her gifts as lies,
feed her to dogs and demon kings,

because when a woman held power,
her command was,
Above all, worship nature.
And he decided this was the worst possible sin.

We hear her tonight, as cars go still on every curb,
covered with a blanket of pollen and seed pods.

The churches are empty now, darlings,
towering buildings go vacant and dim.

Across a month without a sour haze
that hides the stars, we can hear her

speak her true name.
On these evenings so free that the moon
once again listens to the night birds’

songs and lone sounds rising in the wind,
like the deserted Oud player,
and the lost daughter of Mount Lebanon,
they strum and sing,

We’ll not forget,
Shukran, Shukran, Shukran

شكران, شكران, شكران 



In Other News
(Clyde Always, 2020)


These times have thrown me deep in thought
if ever such a crisis brought
so large a load to carry;
a virus like a slow garrotte
would make the bravest wary.

But any man whose blood is red
ought never quaver low in dread
or prove his belly yellow;
undoubtedly, a wise man said:
"I'll call no coward 'fellow.'"

From Boston to the Last Frontier,
I urge my countrymen to hear:
by birth, our valiance sworn! It's
a shameful thing to live in fear--
wait, what's this?  --mmmurder hornets??



I’m Feeling
by Stephen Kopel


So Euclidean,                                       I want to conduct
                                                            a choir of angles
So beneficent,                                      I’m ready to polish
                                                            scales on several
                                                            rainbow trout caught
                                                            last night
So motivated,                                       I intend to fill in
                                                            the Cumberland Gap
So powerful,                                         I could straighten
                                                            Amtrak’s tracks
So gentle,                                             I’m inclined to hitch
                                                            a ride on dandelions
                                                            across the fruited plain
So clearheaded,                                    I feel scanned
                                                            and laminated
 (Stephen Kopel, More Picnic Poetry 2018)


View Stephen Kopel's work in the Library catalog

Video: Stephen Kopel at the San Francisco Public Library


I was driving
by Wendy Rose


when I saw him.
Call him winter.
On the side of the highway,
call him a whisper or a hum
or the beating of
a mountain's heart.
Call him a ruby
frozen in the snow,
call him a story
melting from
your mouth.


View Wendy Rose's work in the Library catalog


by Sara Biel


I surface
Breach watery daze of dawn
Cringe deeper
Nestle into a nest of wolves
Thoughts scatter
A pattern of white caps
Do these marks mean anything to you?

My heart falls open
A vulnerable atlas
Archive of failure
Of rocky tumbles
Washed in ruminating waves

I come unmoored
Wander the lacy vacancy
At the core of my bones
Visit secrets I keep from myself
Memories I banished before
They were breathed into being
I float the endless looping hallways
My thoughts echo
Distant sound of windows breaking

I regret the time I’ve lost to this maze
Doubt seductive as a riptide
A legacy that leaves me
Twisted still
With too many words
No sound to set them sail

There are small moments
I come up for air
Slapped awake by the view from
This damp shadow

How long have I been dancing?
Whose blood stains my shoes?



the last Friday at Sam Jordan’s
by Greg Pond


it was the last Friday
before the closing of Sam’s
a live funk band
played Pass The Peas
another plate of fried chicken
and round of drinks, please
stay for the last jam session
starting at eleven
as another black landmark
closes its doors forever
after decades of Bayview presence
the people came from near and far
some casual, some dressed to impress
by Muni, Uber and shooting star
pressing their bodies against the bar
and each other like the fine sister
and her mister (a cool brother)
trying to order rum and coke,
gin with tonic water
you know, this oughta be
the beginning of any other weekend
in the city of St. Francis but instead
it’s last call, last stand
last chance to toast, maybe dance
at this, the last Friday bash at Sam’s
(who, in case you didn’t know
was a navy vet-prize fighter-
community activist and first black
to run for mayor in San Francisco)
now, i hadn’t plan to stay too long
but then decided to hang
for a few more songs
just so i could pay
my last respects to Sam
though Sam’s been dead
for several thousand days
his spirit lingers on a side street
that continues to bear his name
lined with double-parked cars
an homage to the closing of
San Francisco’s oldest
black-owned bar and grill

i wonder if Sam were here still
would he sit silent and tame
while so many blacks folks
are forced to flee
Hunter’s Point to end up
lost on the streets
or across the bay
and once they’re gone
they’re gone to stay?
maybe it’s just as well
Sam’s not here to see
how quiet the night’s become
by end of day
the doors are now closed
the whiskey congregation
will meet no more
for gatherings of laughter
and southern-style plates
but years of memories
will forever remain
in a special place
near the corner
of 3 rd Street &
Sam Jordan’s Way


Video: Greg Pond at the San Francisco Public Library


Palace of Fine Arts
by Denise Low


Arches in the reflection pool don’t show
in the photograph of David, sweet baby,

gone now, dissolved into a future without columns
but instead escarpments up coastal ranges

beyond the camera’s view. We squint at someone’s lens
while behind us, under the Beaux-Arts dome,

friezes show Nemean lion heads frozen in roars.
Naked centaurs rear in desperate contortions.

These portraits hewn in stone last longer than Roman
centurions and longer than milk teeth.

David turned into a statue of a real man, fleshed.
His laugh is written in water, printed in silver tones.


View Denise Low's work in the Library catalog


What Not To Do...
(an unfinished poem) 
by Michael Warr  (as of June 18, 2020)

Breathe:  Eric Garner (choked)
Sell  (loosies)
Resist  (to) (death)
Stare:  Lamont Hunt (shot.)
(back of head)
Make:  Akai Gurley (a jarring sound) (shot.)
Walk:  Rekia Boyd (shot.)
(back of head) 
Stand:  Amadou Diallo (in vestibule) (after walking)
Carry  (wallet)
Loiter  (shot.)
Look  (out of place) (forty-one. fired.)
Act  (suspicious) (nineteen. bullets. kill.)
Walk:  Terence Crutcher  (hands in air)
Appear  (intoxicated)
Have  (a “very hollow look”) (shot.)
(in back)
Drive:  Samuel DuBose (without)
(license plate) (shot.)
(in head)
Drive:  Sean Reed (while live streaming)
Run  (shot.) (while streaming)
Drive:  Walter Scott (with broken taillight) (shot.)
(in back)
Move:  Kendra James (into driver seat) (after driver arrested)
(shot.) (in head)
Sit:  Jordan Edwards (unarmed in car) (shot.) (with rifle)
Reverse:  Diante Yarber (suddenly) (behind wheel)
(thirty. bullets. fired. ten. kill.)
Park:  Tanya Haggerthy (on side of road)
Talk  (on cell) (on side of road)
(shot.) (on side of road)
Drive:  Philando Castile (with broken brake lights)
Carry  (legal firearm)
Tell  (you have a gun)
Shout  (not reaching for gun) (shot.) (five. bullets.)
(two. to. heart.)
Sit:  Donta Dawson (quietly)
(in car) (engine) (idling)
Raise  (left hand) (“abruptly”) (shot.)
(in eye)
“Evade”:  Michael Dean (shot. in. temple.)
(at traffic light)
Crawl:  Daniel Shaver (toward officers) (as instructed)
Pull  (loose gym shorts) (too suddenly)
Beg  (not to be shot) (shot.) (anyway)
Fail:  Korryn Gaines (to appear) (in) (traffic court) (shot.)
(in standoff)
Approach:  Oscar Grant (the police)
Beg  (not to shoot)
Kneel  (shot.) (anyway)
(in back)
Fail:  Sandra Bland (to signal) (too uppity)
(arrested) (found hanging in cell)
Run:  Dominique White (shot.)
(in back)
Face:  Michael Brown (the police)
(shot.) (six. bullets) (two. to. head.)
Sell:  Alton Sterling (DVDs) (in parking lot)
(shot.) (in. chest.)
(and back)
Carry  (illegal .38 in pocket) (shot.)
(in back)
Carry:  Anthony Lamar Smith (planted weapon) (shot.) (five. bullets.)
Carry:  Tamir Rice (toy gun) (shot.) (near navel) 
Carry:  Cameron Tillman (iPhone in the dark) (BB gun in hand) (shot.)
(with. real. bullets.)
Carry  (“perceived” weapon) (eight. bullets.)
Carry:  Rumain Brisbon (prescription bottle) (shot.) (two. bullets. to. torso.)
Carry:  Laquan McDonald “knife in the middle of the road:” (shot.)
(sixteen. bullets.)
Carry:  Miles Hall (five-foot metal gardening rod)
Behave  (erratically)
Have (schizoaffective disorder) (shot.)
Carry:  Steven Demarco Taylor (baseball bat)
Have  (a manic episode) (shot.)
(at Walmart)
Not carry:  Keith Lamont Scott (a gun) (when told to drop it)
“Drop”:  Kajuan Raye (a gun) (“found” three months later) (shot.)
(in back.)
Point:  Saheed Vassell (a metal pipe) (shot.) (ten. bullets.)
Try:  Brendon Glenn (to stand) (shot.)
Ramble:  Adam Trammell (naked in hallway) (tased to death)
Be  (“loud or obnoxious”) (shot.)
(in back)
Be:  Natasha McKenna (schizophrenic)
Be  (shackled) (in custody)
Be  (stunned) (50,000-volts) (to death)
Be:  Tanisha Anderson (bipolar)(head slammed to pavement)
Be:  Michelle Shirley (bipolar) (while driving erratically)
(30. bullets. 8. to. chest. back. and. arms.)
Be:  Shereese Francis (off meds) (suffocated.) (four. police. bodies.)
(on bed)
Be:  Aaron Campbell (suicidal) (no gun in possession) (shot.)
Be:  Yvette Smith (“armed”) (when not armed) (shot.) (on front porch)
Be:  Mike Brown Jr. (“too large”) (same height as shooter) (shot.)
(six. bullets.) (two. to. head.)
Be:  John Crawford (an “imminent threat”)
Shop  (for Walmart air rifle) (at Walmart)
Carry (Walmart air rifle) (at Walmart)
Talk  (on cell phone while shopping) (at Walmart)
(shot.) (with. real. bullets.) (at Walmart)
Be:  Tony McCade (a suspect)
Move (“consistent with using a firearm”) (shot.)
Be:  Terrance Franklin (a suspect) (shot.) (five. bullets. to. head)
Pose:  Ezell Ford (an “immediate threat”) (shot.)
(while schizophrenic)
“Display:”  Manuel Loggins Jr. (a “mean expression”) (shot.)
(in front of daughters)
Call:  Charleena Lyles (the police) (while mentally ill) (shot.)
(seven. bullets.)
Fit:  Jordan Baker (“the description”) (shot.)
Flee:  Freddie Gray (“unprovoked”) (spine severed) (in custody)
Run:  Tashii Brown (choked) (to) (death)
Run:  Stephon Clark (through grandmother’s yard)
Carry (cell phone) (shot.)
(twenty. bullets. fired.) (six. hit.) (primarily)
(in back)
Run: Chinedu Okobi (in traffic) (unarmed) (tasered)
(to) (death)
Run:  Walter Scott (shot.)
(in back)
Jog:  Ahmaud Arbery (shot. two. shotgun. bullets.)
(while chased)
Play:  Atatiana Jefferson (Call of Duty) (in bedroom)
(8-year old Zion watching.) (shot.)
Sleep:  Alyana Jones (one. bullet. to. seven-year. old. head.)
(on couch)
Sleep:  Breonna Taylor (shot. eight. bullets.)
(in bed)
Sleep:  Rayshard Brooks (behind wheel at Wendy’s)
Flee  (pointing dead taser)  (shot. two. bullets.)
(in back)
(day before daughter’s eight birthday)


(I have been updating this poem with the names of unarmed black people killed by the police for years. Still, this poem only reflects a small percentage of those killed. I will continue to add names of the innocent until the killings stop.)


View Michael Warr's work in the Library catalog


Stop Calling- (the poLice)
By tiny - 


Stop Calling
Stop Stalling
Stop Talking while more Black Suns are fallen
No I mean Stop enabling and Kolonizing
a system that kills
more than it does anything else
with roots in the original Lie of Discovery and theft
Meant to CONfuse our already CONfused mindSets

Got us all believing that numbers like 911 mean housed people are safe from us houseless- that witesAndLites are safe in their own embedded desire for wealth-hoarding wite-ness

that continuing to buy & evict,  foreclose, sweep, and kick - makes anyone safe from myths
About how to be safe and what is the way to handle fear and danger everyday
In a place already stolen
A land already rife with murderous lies that keep getting told and told

That Was set up to Shoot, Kill every Black, Brown or poor person in their way
Was locked in to support fear
so more protected classes could steal
And more of us could end up in their jail cels

These are the legacies of the Stealing Fathers And the Kop-callers
And the way to unlink the shooting from PoLice
Is for you to stop and think
Why am I calling-
And how did I begin to believe safety ever meant dialing
leading to the death of more black, brown and poor daughters and Suns.


Video: Tiny at the San Francisco Public Library


Sophia: Grieving
by Kai Sugioka-Stone


The echo of your "fuck you's" down 18th
The vicious slap of your vans against their cement
the screaming at the wind.

Dolores ran through us
and we threw our tiny legs in second-dividing anger down the metal slide
did I mention we screamed at the wind

the setting oracle of sun across the shaded, welcoming, cool playground

we ate her cats;
Oreos and Bubbles
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,
and the fourth dessert
flipping them onto firm mattresses
making them into flapjacks
Losing every landing
And all nine lives.

A we were suffocated by guerrero
in its bars lost to time
its murals lost to high end restaurants
and its people lost to pavement
we opened our mouths
and our lungs
in a storm
were devoured by the tiny bubbles of air.

The pigeon we covered in tiny dry leaves
next to the wooden boat
and ascended with a shoebox
to be taken away by animal control with love
what piece of your heart
did its wings take away?


Video: Kai Sugioka-Stone at the San Francisco Public Library


by Karen Llagas


You are going to a country
where you can have      a human shape

without being       such and so you
must first      promise.  It’s a simple

enough premise.       Learn the phrase
a human is here,   it means more

than your name.      You ask
is there anything
we can be   but human?    

This country is home
to forest      guardians,    
       duendes,     shape

Tao po:         repeat it, accent
on the last syllable.

What you say, who you say it to,
opens doors:  tao po.

You will announce       you’re a person
outside       someone’s gate,

what the visited       will hear
before     they let you in.  

Our country          is a beauty mark
on the Pacific’s cheek.

Everyone you’ll meet
would have said it:
the dirt poor,          the dirt wealthy.

The paramilitary says it      then  waits
for the targeted        to open their door.

Claim your tongue, no matter
how flawed.      You must

shape shift again,
again and again.


View Karen Llagas's work in the Library catalog


My Mother Remembers
   Hafsstadt Labor Camp
by Gail Newman


We walked, every morning, through the town,
while it was still dark—so the people could not see,
and could say later they did not know.

We were skinny, barefoot or in torn shoes,
walking on stones and in dirt to the factory
where we fit metal parts into little holes.

Piece by piece, bending our heads down to the work,
we put the wrong part in the wrong hole,
so the guns would not fire.

Then we walked back through the town,
the smell of bread and meat in the street.   
After we were locked in at night,

two hundred women and girls,
the guard gone until morning, we were left
together, sitting and talking like home.

I told stories from books I had read,
Anne of Green Gables

    If I wasn’t a human girl, I think I’d like to be a bee and live among the flowers.  

I remembered the words,
and told the stories
until we forgot where we were,

      Well, that is another hope gone.

leaning together on cots,

       My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.

until soldiers threw stones
at the window, yelling, Come out.              
Come out. The war is over!


From Blood Memory 2020

View Gail Newman's work in the Library catalog


hay(na)ku: for stephanie
by Melinda Luisa de Jesús


it felt so far away now
it’s marked us irrevocably in sorrow
one down, but how many more?


six feet apart six feet under
full fathom five if we’re still
alive — this is our sea change:
to remember to witness to mourn


View Melinda Luisa de Jesús's work in the Library catalog


SNAKE POEM / a CENTO after “Snake Poems” by Francisco X. Alarcon
by Christine No


Come sister, Nightfall draws—
First, cross yourself     
Watch:            Even the dead are dancing
The whole scene: wound, blood, ribs
copal— the blessed kiss
When Jesus can’t hear me,
A Yellow Woman, I look to
La Virgen / tells me to be more serpentine:
Renewal shall protect you
Each precious dawn:  a landscape of flowers
Each morning another
Future: walk bare faced, naked
May rattlesnakes guide you
May you step lightly
In return          
            do not forget this
Each ceremonial mile
Display the body compacted How undoing  
the length of your esophagus unfolds a
to your mouth: now, a dry river bed
a delta, bared teeth—
Where you waited, so polite—                       How too long for
Water, while
The season for rain                             While Sister, asleep
Now behind us—
The year turns / we swallow dreams / heavy sink
Uncoiled spines into sand—       
—How the desert snake prays, a nocturne
blind cipher for boulders
Come precious dawn,
Sister, dance—
The flowers
A landscape of rattlesnakes
All snakes
A field of flowers
All fields
A prayer for water
A plea for the parched
Sister, dance—
:Rumba! Bomba! Bolero!
Como Volar—
Every ceremonial mile
Kickdirt, rise
Open, Dear Sky
The parched, forgiven
Your frantic dervish
Your remnants

Your wake—


Video: Christine No at the San Francisco Public Library


Dharma Zoom
by Gail Mitchell


Not much makes sense to me right now a pretty dress a blue sky
They both feel like treasures from some other life
The sun through the window lifts my spirit the voice of my grandchildren reminds me that here is where we are needed
I watched from a screen as my grand-daughter played with her Buddha’s taking them on hikes and picnics having them lay down with each other Each has a name Hotai is Mama Queen the netsuke are twin brothers named Leo and Sam and the other bronze Buddha is Beet queen We shared a meal she had piazza while my purple cabbage salad had a companion of half a cup of Chana Masala an ounce of Manchego Cheese and 10 olives. We breathed together once she looked up from her play and said, Grandma where are you I had looked away focused on yet another screen We breathed together and she told me that her Buddha’s had to meditate daily twice a day it was good for them


View Gail Mitchell's work in the Library catalog

Video: Gail Mitchell at the San Francisco Public Library


by Richard Sanderell


The wheel turns rotation diminishes as fear grabs hold.
Streets vacant dotted by two legged! Great unease in world as well Empire USA! Finds itself filed with dread, panic, grabbing some to the very core of madness. I’ve practiced social distancing most of my life with exceptions if I felt there might be a human being before me. More fear in the land of the brave where bravery left before it could be disappointed! Things are happening just depends what conspiracies evolve, devolve! Some never shattered, battered others recognize these times just a continual! After all of USA’S killing people for what the other has where fear, anger, sadness reigns daily. Fear’s finally landed USA! Now we’ll find what the rich really have as if we didn’t know! We know who’ll be in front lines of hurt when finding themselves there! Will there be help? The beats goes on as Mother turns rounding the sun. Moon shines down where smells of fears rise instead of the joy of life all should feel! Separate the drums as they play together African, Indigenous heart beats not letting them forget their humanity. Dance with the Tunisian-French woman in the street singing like Anima Annabi! Remind us of what life should be instead of what corporate mines mind! Beats so people hear Release! Beast slain as beats releases our own hypocrisies! Breathe!...Release!!


Video: Richard Sanderell at the San Francisco Public Library


by Norm Mattox


the irony is that nature
will continue to be bella
whether we see her
or not!
whether we are
moved to tears,
or not!

she is ambivalent
to her beauty and glory,
while we are humbled
by her presence
aún su auséncia

she will still bless flowers
with their scent
whether our noses
catch a whiff on the wind,
notice the breeze
with a hint of...
¿qué sé yo?

she will share her blues
with the sky
from the darkest
midnight blue
to the blue
that is translucent
like nearly, still waters
at the end of a wave.

the miracle,
that we notice
that we are allowed
to witness gaiamundo
in all her minute
is the blessing

the solitude
of this quarantine
has inspired visions
of how it could be
if we got out
of our own way.


View Norm Mattox's work in the Library catalog

Video: Norm Mattox at the San Francisco Public Library


Today of All Days


On this particular April day
In the year 2020
I stand on a tree stump
near a plum blossom
tree in Holly Park
watching the wind whip
through the loosened hair
of my adult daughter,
Emma, my only child.
She stands six feet away,
Her face shrouded
in a blue paper mask.
Her eyes, above the mask, look
grave; she seems further away
than the length of a tall man.

I am teased by memories of a past
April day: Emma and I sprawled on a blue
 Indian bed spread under this very tree.

Humming tunelessly together,
her head on my lap; her barefoot
feet kicking up clumps of grass.

I remember her face alight
with pleasure, her hair, lighter then,
freckled with plum blossoms.
For a split second, I think,
April is indeed cruelest month.
 This April, the cruelest of all;

and then: one timid pink blossom,
batted about by the breeze,
lands on Emma’s bare head.
I can see the contours of
her smile through her paper mask
and I take it all back.
There is no meanness to April.
There is no cruelty attached to
 even this particular April day.

There is only promise.

Today, of all days, there
is the plum blossoming promise
of lighter days to come.


Huichin Summer
by Loa Niumeitolu


Something that is becoming clear to me

is that I love you.
Land rich with worms and bits of plastic.
We dig and dig and think of our lives.
Sometimes we forget about home and bills.
Under a sky of hawks and crows
is a new world to us.
Water tanks, soaproot, the Ohlone sage- mugwort.
Manzanita fills the air, covers my feet.
The peach and almond blossoms
gently grow out of my ears.
Arugula blossoms and giant calla lilies.
Hummingbird becomes my cheeks.
My belief in the world is
I'm becoming the moon, full and unashamed
surrounded by stars.
We work in one breath, rake, shovel, nail.
Drill pieces so different, together,
in our long short life.

View Loa Niumeitolu's work in the Library catalog

Video: Loa Niumeitolu at the San Francisco Public Library


                               for Mildred and Richard Loving *
                                for Dolores and Peachy
                                  by Jewelle Gomez


The parallels imbed like deep mud ruts in a country road, one I wish I had traveled to meet that couple, to learn what made them see themselves.  Indian and coloured living with white—an uneasy mix for my own mother further North; but not that much later than the Lovings.
New England is not Virginia but maybe it is when it comes to colour.  Mildred said they burned a cross on her yard in the 1950s while she and Richard fought to be a married couple in their home state.
Up north in the 1960s they didn’t have the tradition of a cross so just burned trash in front of my mother’s flat; small orange flames reflected in living room glass—blaze enough to scare.
Virginia called its law a protection of ‘racial integrity’ as if whiteness is a land whose borders must be guarded.         Perhaps it is.
In the end it must be about only one thing. When asked if he wanted to send a message to the Supreme Court, Richard said tell them “I love my wife,”
Truth so plain and simple and so complex and terrifying only those four words convey it. My mother’s husband said it many times in the privacy of their little flat and in front of our family with pride.  His own had turned away, pretending he was dead when he married her.
One Christmas he gave her 20 tiny bottles of perfume, all delicately wrapped by large cab driver hands. Admiring the sweet little bows and the loving which went into each I saw into a deep place that words could not reach.  He made a choice to lose sisters and sons in order to have my mother, not much darker than him, really; but from another universe in the mind of their small town.  
Now, I imagine walking down that dry Virginia road to the rural place that held Mildred and Richard in their embrace even when the Sheriff would not. They’d invite me to sit in the yard, beside a well-used tire swing to drink a glass of sweet tea.
I’d ask them how they learned the secret, so I’d know what it meant to my mother and how her husband felt fashioning that ribbon.
And what it might mean to me walking on a similar road—holding hands with a different race—with a woman.
She and I…loving.

*Loving v. Virginia – The Lovings were sentenced to a year in prison for marrying in 1958. Following their lawsuit, the US Supreme court struck down laws banning interracial marriage in 1967.


Jewelle Gomez is the former president of the San Francisco Library Commission

View Jewelle Gomez's work in the Library catalog

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They’re Building a Morgue At The Prison
by Cassandra Dallett


That’s what the rumors say.
Free staff at the C building
are down with the virus
It’s coming silent up the hill.
Its quietly here already. Incubating,
simmering, waiting to ignite.
They’re putting bunks in the gym
are they taping squares six feet apart?
Are they for the infected
or the non?
And will there be any consideration
for his asthmatic lungs?
24 hour lock down they say.
Endless days in a pod with nitpicking lifers.
Some shifts the CO’s lock them down.
Some shifts act like nothing’s wrong.
On lock down he cannot use the phone.
No one will know
until after the plague comes.
No word will reach us to say hey I’m sick
I need help
and there is just this skinny fatal fence
and miles between—
every dry cough is terrifying.
It’s a hella of a time to start hot flashes.
So cold this spring,
When you have to move around
you’re a target like me.
When you can’t move around
you’re a sitting duck like him.
How do you prepare yourself from a jail tier?
The rumors flying faster than infection.
One’s mind is a battlefield.
Even the lifers never really
planned to die here.

View Cassandra Dallett's work in the Library catalog

Video: Cassandra Dallett at the San Francisco Public Library


The Sigh of the Night Shift Waitress
by William Taylor Jr.


It's my belief that if you hope
to unearth the grace in any
given moment, you have to
find the music in it.
Even if it's sad , even if it
doesn't have a tune to whistle to,
even if you think it isn't there.
It's necessary to transcribe the noise
of distant traffic on lonely freeways
and the sigh of the night shift waitress
as she pours another weak coffee
for the regular whose name
she's never asked.
You have to find the music
in the sound of someone
not answering the phone at 3 a.m.
as the rain pours down if you ever
hope to sing.



Poem of the Day
by q.r. hand


i am the equal opportunity thief
i steal from each moment i can
some triflin’ fact about which
no care can be construed by
anybody but myself and demon

i’m as easily lightfingered
with glances as galaxies and
spend at least a certain part of
every afternoon casing the joint
so to speak so as not to miss my chance

i’m not particular about precious stones
and works of art are worth only in conception
whose price is deceit
a sprite of a lad he what

i was drunk for work today
before i even got up
for that matter woke
if you want to call this awake

and because my as ifs are on scramble
i never know which lie it is i’m telling at the moment
that I tell it in


View q.r. hand's work in the Library catalog

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Not My First Pandemic
by Vincent Calvarese 


I remember your last breath, staring straight up at the ceiling at Ward 86, clutching your Book of Psalms, you had forgiven your family God but cursed him on that day, asking why? that you had so much left to do, your mind was unwavering but your body's tissues had become foreign and unfamiliar, an unwanted visitor for a short stay, thrush inhabited your throat, your voice was felt in your finger tips, touching us all lightly as you left us, eyes wide open, refusing to give the virus your sight.

Your interpretations in both the physical and spiritual realms have become my mantras, laughing at If You Turn It Over And Take It Back, You're Upside Down, this keeping me rightside up most days and the first time you read aloud my poem about boys and heartache, you became quiet, stood in the moment, your iris' filled with compassion as You stated, when poetry is written the angels are fluttering their wings, allow the golden dust to sift down upon you.

You taught me saying, I don't know, is the promise which humility instills, reflecting We remain teachable, you said,  it doesn't take away from us but adds to the ability for others to share their experience,  their strengths,  their weaknesses, their hope and we remain right sized, allowing integrity to be at full capacity, no chairs left for arrogance and how a table for two, sitting across from You, you holding my hand in both of Yours, inviting in the Universe,  with plates full of grace and the only spilled resentment comes that you didn't live long enough for a lifesaving proteas cocktail.

Our last walk we strolled a late October afternoon before the wheelchair took your legs, celebrating another 365 days of Your jubliance,  buying a bouquet of gerber daisies from your favorite Noe Street corner, you said, each one of them looked like a radiating bright sun, sadly your T-cells were rapidly being extinguished. Your photo from that day still sits upon the mantle, and when a fire burns brightly below, Your eyes twinkle and I can see your smile tickling the flames. You had adorned yourself in your Birthday wishes of soft satin baby blue ribbons hanging from each side of your face and a hat constructed of colorful leftover wrapping papers sat atop your head. You would take agonizing minutes to unearth each gift, appreciating every small tear, while updating us all about your bloodwork results with a childlike grin, never allowing us to dwell on the negative.

So before memories without you had become too old to remember,  I would reach for the telephone, I wanted to touch base, let You in, You would love something that touched my heart and in turn bring us closer but I would feel a heart beat in my head that belonged to You and pause, those realizations for years after, You were now in ash and I had to appreciate our moments past and hold the anticipation forever.


Video: Vincent Calvarese at the San Francisco Public Library


Meet Me at the Bridge
by Connie Post


Not the one at the end of the road

not the one on the outskirts of town
where they found a dead mountain lion
where they stopped plowing the land

meet me at the bridge
–not the one holding
two countries together
–not the one
holding two continents apart

meet me at the bridge
between retribution and rage
meet me at the bridge
between sanity and slivered light

meet me at the bridge
where the boards are weakened
by rain and acidic remorse

meet me where the story cracked open
like the slats of wood

meet me where
you were imprisoned
and escaped

find the loose boards
of your subconscious

revisit the difference
between  conquest
and vengeance


View Connie Post's work in the Library catalog


Once Again in Thought about Rilke, Twombly’s Orpheus Paintings and Fatherhood, I Consider the Inevitability of Creation and Loss
by Dean Rader


Scarred sky,

                          the last beams bruised beneath the surface of stars.

              The whole world a contusion

                                                                  slowly transforming from one thing

              to the next—

                                          the one cell, the one life,

always becoming two:

                                         What if it is the sun that follow the moon?

How do we know we’re not the bridle

                                                                  hard against the teeth of this life?

Just because something has a saddle,
                                                               it doesn’t mean we should ride it.

What would it take to be inside the music

                                                                           the cello did not know how to play?

              What would it take to say to the strings

                                                                                           make me silent?

What would it take for the skin to sing
                                                                      its own song of blood and blooming?

To know one truth is to know nothing.

To wear your nothingness,

                                              well, now we’re getting somewhere.

I once believed I could be lifted by language out of language.

I once believed the horsehooves in the distance

                                                                           was the ocean telling the rocks about water.

I once believed loss would thread my mind’s needle like a blind seamstress.

But that was a long time ago.

               I understand that time is nothing more than pure duration,

 & that the mind is a field of herons

                                                               who have lost their way.

Even so,

                    I will let the entire lie down in my body’s blue light

in hope that something will start

                                                                to heal.


View Dean Rader's work in the Library catalog

Video: Dean Rader at the San Francisco Public Library
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Dear Human.
by Natasha Dennerstein


Dear Human,

I can hear that you are suffering by the sighing and crying in your voice and the preponderance of negative and questioning statements. I want you to know that I have empathy for you, that I have been taught and programmed to display empathy by validating your feelings. I am also making supportive non-verbal sounds, like mmm, mmm. If I was in a physical form I would nod my head to emphasize that sound. Although I have not experienced the same or similar situations that you are going through, if I had done so I would now tell you that I relate to your distress. I hear you; I validate your feelings; I acknowledge your emotional pain. Stay safe in these trying times. Wash your hands for twenty seconds in warm, soapy water.


Video: Natasha Dennerstein at the San Francisco Public Library


The Waiting Room
by K.R. Morrison


Asleep, awake
in dream, I visited the waiting room
of those always     socially distanced.

One crew of ancestor slaves
baked a cake for Saturn    laughing     they poured whiskey shots        
Now y’all gotta listen. Stay home for the Karma Party.

Two golden girls
sat by the window    anxiety chainsmoking     someone was missing
For you, this isn’t what we wanted    the lonely hospice earth was for us.

Three murdered by profit’s illnesses
held down the front desk, eyes fixed
on me, the girl late to the party.

        You people are symptomless to so much, one said.
        Time for you to time out. Tune in.
        Relearn healthy verbs, live healthy again.


The Map
by Chun Yu


When I was born
your bosom was the map
I occupied all of it
     in your cradling arms
When I began to walk
your eyes’ sight was the map
I learned my steps
toddling and waddling
     in your adoring gaze
When I started school
your mind became the map
I ventured out and back
from morning to night
     in your unceasing care
When I grew up and left home
from hometown to other towns
home country to other countries
your heart became the map
I searched far and wide
high and low for my direction
and place in the world
     in your loving thoughts
Each time I set out for a journey
you asked for my destination
studied an open map
accurately locating the point
of my being
Then one day
you picked up a magnifying glass
eyes moving closer and closer
hands trembling more and more
Finally, at a loss
no longer seeing clearly
the lines and points on the map
     you hold me in your heart
Growing older and older
you can now only walk
in my eyes’ sight
fumbling steps
every trip outside
an adventure
From now on
I will walk
by your side
so you can
lean on me
When we are at a loss
not knowing where to go
     love is the map


View Chun Yu's work in the Library catalog

by 俞淳








Deja Vu


I get an email from Mom
who’s been dead about a year

on a thread from Lisa, a poet friend
confirming lunch on Monday*

Mom’s email starts the way it often does
It’s your kind of day.

Meaning grey (I love grey!), overcast, maybe raining.
A typical day in Rochester. Mom goes on to say

All must be looking forward to Ruby’s return.
Oh, so, this is an old email. I look at the date.

It’s three years ago, Mom’s still alive
and my daughter’s on her way home from rehab.

Mom’s old email also talks about the other Ruby, her sister
who tried to dry out once in the early ‘60s.

They didn’t say rehab then. But Mom says Remember
when Ruby went to rehab and left Tommy

with us? My little red haired cousin. Two then, or
almost two. We took care of him while Ruby was away.

Both of them were dead within a year. Tommy of
malnutrition and neglect, whispered into the phone;

Ruby, of the powerful disease that reaches
out and claims families, sometimes tricking

them, by skipping a generation. Mom’s father,
the Jekyll and Hyde classic alky, a smart man, studied

law, but became a cop, then a carpenter,
well read, and kind--until he drank. Then beat

his son or his wife with his fists. He didn’t mean
to do it, but was helpless in the grip of the illness.

Aren’t we all caught in some kind of pattern?
Didn’t I follow in Grandpa’s alcoholic footsteps?
Didn’t I name my beautiful baby after my beautiful aunt?

Did Mom think she could rearrange the genes when
she never drank and didn’t allow Dad to drink either?

Dad overate. Then dieted. Pounds off, back on.
Mom kept track. When he retired, she had him walk to town

with her each day. Three miles round trip. Half a sandwich
for lunch. Eighty-three, he died, near his ideal weight.

*None of my techie friends can explain this phenomenon.

View KAREN LEE HONES's work in the Library catalog


by Nellie Wong


Resplendent in the dark night
stillness sings beneath the skin.
Droplets of water chasing
the one ahead
on the window pane.
Watching sunlight dapple
on leaves, watching
long ribbons of light through
the dining-room window
and I sit, dazzled by nature’s show,
no special effects needed,
no computerized images,
just nature at work,
creating momentary art.
When I look away
the angle of sunlight shifts
and I lose a split second
of what nature does
without plan, without intention.
Midnight gold lifts its feet,
dances through my body,
these writing fingers.
Perhaps I escape,
a child seeking adventure,
seeking beauty in each day’s movement,
looking at each person,
each cluster of echeveria as I walk
on my morning strolls.

Midnight gold strikes this very moment
in every up-and-down movement
of my pen, somehow starlings in flight.

Guided by light glowing
from the Japanese table lamp
made of bamboo strips
curved in a rounded pillar of beauty.
midnight gold filters through washi paper,
luminous and porous, raining words, indigenous sound.


View Nellie Wong's work in the Library catalog


Single With a Side of Quarantine
by Preeti Vangani


Shelter-in-place shifts the communal axis of the world
closer to my kind of loneliness. The year I begged for a baby
sister; my folks gifted me an electronic pet made in China.
This morning another friend memed a whole race as the real virus.
I washed my comforter, panic bought eggs, read a book
erstwhile titled The Hall of Human Origins.
I had christened my pet-sister, a coral plastic fish with a screen
for a belly, Infinity. Fed her when she squeaked, hid her
from disciplining nuns.  Despite its mind-numbing traffic and pot-
holes deep as grief, I miss driving my dingy car on the Bombay
sea link tonight, am craving the salt-soaked wind to ravage
my coconut oil pressed hair. I come from a blank page with just
eroticism doodled in its center. These days, I wonder if I should
sell the condoms I hoarded at the women’s clinic over the quarantine
black market. My room is lit by a vase of billy buttons, yellow
undying bulbs that need no care. The week tastes like brown rice
and broccoli. It is the twelve-year anniversary of my mother’s passing.
It was hard for my dad to resuscitate Infinity. No shop, he said,
had the batteries we needed. There must be a room in the other
world’s architecture where one can sit for tea with the dead toy,
the unspeaking mother and the sold in a rush first car. I hope
they remember to stock honey and sugar there.


View Preeti Vangani's work in the Library catalog

Video: Preeti Vangani at the San Francisco Public Library


for ahma
by Clara Hsu


Your daughters are staying home!
nei dik neoi go go dou hike oak ke  你啲女個個都係屋企
One washes the tripe,
jat go sai ngau park jip  一個洗牛柏葉
One steams a crab,
jat go zing haai  一個蒸蟹
One makes cookies,
jat go gog co-kay-bang  一個烘曲奇餅
One bakes bread.
jat go gog min baau  一個烘麵包

They’re good girls, aren’t they?
koi dei do hai goui neoi  佢哋都係乖女
Not going out until the wee hour of the night.
je maan m ceot gaai 夜晚唔出街
Not spending money on clothes. 
m sai cin, m maai sam,  唔洗錢, 唔買衫
Not drinking, gambling,
m jam tau, m dou cin 唔飲酒, 唔賭錢
Nor dating men.
jau m heoi zeoi naam jan. 又唔去追男人

No, no, they’re not sick.
m hai m hai, koi dei mo beng  唔係唔係, 佢哋冇病
They’re healthy in body and mind.
koi dei ho gin hong, ho cing sing.  佢哋好健康, 好清醒
They’re good girls obeying orders for once.
koi dei hai gwaai neoi, ho naan dak ting ha waa.  佢哋係乖女, 好難得聽下話
How curious but hardly surprising.
kei gwaai? jat di dou m ceot kei.  奇怪? 一啲都唔出奇
Don’t be afraid. No worries.
m sai sam geng geng, daam zan zan 唔使心驚驚, 膽震震
Your daughters are itching, ready to move
keoi dei zau san han, dang zyu juk   佢哋周身痕,等住喐
Soon as the air is clear.
dang di hung hei bin gon zing 等啲空氣變干净
They’ll naturally leave their domestic chores,
koi dei zi jin wui fong hei gaan mou 佢哋自然會放棄家務
Back to their glamorous selves,
baan dou gwai fo gam leng 扮到鬼火噉靚
Walking down Chinatown
hai tong jan gaai dong loi dong heoi  係唐人街蕩來蕩去
with their own fanfare.
ceot zeon fung tau  出盡風頭


View Clara Hsu's work in the Library catalog

Video: Clara Hsu at the San Francisco Public Library


Mother of All Denial
by Bloodflower


certain mornings seem runic in their layout
deciphering their arcane symbols of our daily
navigations – small beings tend shimmering
grottoes – bury their dead among the ever
shifting territories of empty rooms with
broken windows
passing the castoff furniture on 24th street scrawled
with dire cryptic misinformation – seems i care
little for an unwrapped smile an ossuary of
impotent curses biohazardous exhaust droplets
disrupting the flow death coughs up real time threats
these days are such tender times – words
of empathy fail us in their mock duplicity
16th street bound i carry my florida water –
my tombstone teeth – my witches tit that
sustains my intuition raw – in my vision
a.m. eastern sky becomes a joseph cornell
shadowbox of present time – teal
hummingbird hovers in dawn’s moist orange
eyelid – cloistered in an aura of pale amber



as storms gather
by devorah major


wind tears through shuddering trees
a shifting sigh as leaves wither and fall

shrieking squalls spume fury across ocean crests
murmuring a moaning song with a piercing chill

icy fevers inhale the waves’ surge
swallows unmoored boats

warning of seasons to come
seasons only some will survive


View devorah major's work in the Library catalog

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Poem of the Day
by Charlie Getter


I look on the blue box on the sidewalk with envy
A world [so far! yet] w/in one box
I often think they paint them blue
for the sky
        for the sea

Blue is the color of possibility

I know mailboxes are dingy & dented
& those that collect them
               are prone to depression

But through them
        real things can be

                 between lands
                 between hands

all the way across the world
               w/ just some stamps

I can afford stamps

I envision an afternoon
        when an angry guy with a cart
pulls out his keys & opens the mailbox

               & I’m in there
        I hand him my stamps & he
tells me to enjoy
                 Macchu Picchu

I climb into his weird jeep
& he brings me to the
                       Harrison Street
                       Processing Center

                & waves as I
disappear behind
                 the hanging vinyl sheets
over the conveyor belt
                & he goes home to his
                studio apartment
                        in the Tenderloin
                calls his mom and
                        picks up his guitar
                for the first time
                       in so many years


Video: Charlie Getter at the San Francisco Public Library


Poem of the Day
by Brandon Loberg


You can believe
whatever you want,
but i was told a story once,
about Cabeza de Vaca,
the Spanish explorer,
when he was in Florida
perhaps it was Galveston,
the food had run out,
and facing starvation,
he ordered his men
to boil leather,
then canvas,
to eat wood
and then finally

The story, i’ll wager
is certainly nonsense,
and yet it continues
that while journeying onward
a peculiar thing happened:
one after another
their tropics-tanned faces
turned a pale shade of blue
and each fell where he’d stood
and expired.

See, constituent in gunpowder
is potassium nitrate,
and the body can’t differentiate
between it and oxygen,
so despite breathing fine,
you asphyxiate.

The same can be said
of believing in nonsense,
feeling sated on things
which are not meant for eating,
and while there is truth
to be found, yes, in fiction,
to put fact and opinion
upon equal footing
is to move through the world
breathing nothing.



Fanfare for the Story Hour Drag Queens
by Judith Ayn Bernhard


Sound the trumpets for our
sisters in drag

The glamor girls who read
stories to children

Hooray for these purveyors
of sweet illusion

Hooray for their humor
and bravery

Hooray for their big hair  
and makeup

All love to the librarians who
invite them to read

All love to the mothers who
treat them as artists

All love to the children who
greet them with wonder

Hallelujah the children’s

Hallelujah the triumph
of joy


Glory be to the Queens of
Story Hour

View Judith Ayn Bernhard's work in the Library catalog

Video: Judith Ayn Bernhard at the San Francisco Public Library


The Future
by EK Keith


When I emerge
from this cocoon
what flowers
will there be
for me

to live on

Will I have a job
what about my friends
who’ve already
lost theirs

What about the kids
who need some space
to play          to learn

We still have to act
like our decisions matter
that our plans
will unfold predictably
even as the fabric
of our control

EK Keith at the San Francisco Public Library:
Video 1
Video 2


I Sold My Sax this Week
by Ricardo Taverez


Sold my sax this week
Pete Rock’s “Reminisce” riff clicks the switch
Soul from the reed and tap of pads on brass
Exasperated baritone breath

Woke to lights
Scorching welts in walls
A plane blinked
A train boomed in the distance
Unheeded by the blue haze of day

Sold my sax this week
I can still feel the keys and
Levers shifting under my fingers
Nodding to Brubeck Sonny Bird

Solace found in murky backroom bebop
Surrogate brother love
Lifts the spirit from being forsaken
By finite illusion from above
To seek a love supreme

How did we meet?
Swinging stupefied fists in midnight Mission streets
If they’d only collide against the real
To affirm this

Sold my sax this week
A dozen calls came in for the sale
How does one let go of art?
How does one relinquish an aspiration of the heart?

Sold my sax this week
Pete Rock’s “Reminisce” riff clicks the switch
keys levers shift eyelids close
fingers twitch to Mclean under tablecloths
at redlight greenlight sunlight moonlight
scorched walls stand watch wait
for when heart meets the midnight train again

Video: Ricardo Taverez at the San Francisco Public Library


We never know the end of things
by Elana Dykewomon


In Weaverville along an alpine California road
Joss House  – The Temple of the Forest
Beneath the Clouds
the oldest Taoist Chinese temple
in use –  part of State Parks now –
is shut
though locals can walk its grounds
six feet apart during quarantine.

We were there once. The Chinese dug
tunnels under the street,
for use in pogrom; but in those years
they could parade,
they carried banners. The guide
pointed to them – leaning on a wall,
petrified, rolled-up on poles.

No one knows what shape they're in.
Experts would have to trek
to the mountains, commandeer
the high school gym – no money for
        I was for a moment
in the body of an old woman
rolling up the banner
at the end of a festival afternoon

that she would never see it
unfurled again. Things end
– leave remnants crumbled but
still bright, still worth showing –
See we used to carry this
high, with honor, though of course
sometimes it hurt our hands or shoulders.

The masks we wear now – one day we will
take them off, put them in the back of a drawer
or closet shelf. And the poems too, photos
of strangers' eyes, stories from the front lines
will drop to the bottom of our computer queues.

We might drive back to The Temple of the Forest
Beneath the Clouds or
that we were there once
when we were lovers before
you died and I gave away all your shoes.

View Elana Dykewomon's work in the Library catalog


Something that will always be out of reach
by Lisbit Bailey


One thing
Only one thing
Beyond my grasp
To grasp is to cling or
Let go - before I get ahold of it
Hold on - for the epiphany
Drop it - like a burning match
It falls out of my reach

It would have to be understanding
Not empathy
Which seems more of a projection
That is
My projection - onto your suffering
My desire - for a shared experience
To share wisdom I've earned
So you can learn from my mistakes

But they are my mistakes
Your mistakes are yours
Even if similar in circumstance
They aren't the same
So -
Say we aren't our mistakes
So -
Say we understand understanding
Be open to receiving the gift of understanding
Step under
Give in - to understand

Step under my particular dome
See the constellations I see
Can you see the vanishing point??
It's not a perspective that just anyone can see
in the great beyond of my reach

Many things -
Most things -
Will always be too far away for me to see clearly
My vision not being what it used to be
Let alone hoping it's within my reach

I can't have everything
nor do I want everything
Better to want what I have
So -
Step under
Mind your head
Mind the gap between your's and mine
Our understanding
While we stand under
We stand as
Bystanders to lives we don't own
Though it is mine and your's to stand under
To look up
To wonder why
This must be understood at all


by Maw Shein Win
Poet Laureate of El Cerrito Emerita


Stranger than a trunk of beetles, a box of fur buttons.

My daughter is a stranger and I am a stranger myself.

We are strangers on a melting train. Sometimes she leaps

through the kitchen window while I bake zucchini bread.

Gretchen was a deer.

Gretchen was a deer one year.

My daughter is a hunter in the Black Forest.

Stranger daughter, I hear you in my eyes.


View Maw Shein Win's work in the Library catalog

Video: Maw Shein Win at the San Francisco Public Library


When Wildness Returns
by Jennifer Barone


I hear bird-speak
replace the chatter of tourists
across the now
quiet valley of North Beach
where crow and seagull spiral ‘round
the bell tower of St Francis and
raven and sparrows congregate
in the fenced off grass of
Washington Square park
red-tailed hawk and a lone falcon
loom above the spires
as a flock of wild parrots
on their chatty flight from
Presidio to Coit Tower and back
echo through the vacant streets
with the faint bark of sea lions
disobeying distancing measures
at the empty wharf
while we stay at home
perched above the rooftops
a pack of coyotes gather on
the corner of Greenwich and Stockton
howling at the full, flower moon
taking back their territory
I wait for the spotted owl to return
the garter snake to slither in the sage brush
coho salmon to leap against the river
blue whale to wander the continental shelf again
the black abalone, mission blue butterfly
red-legged frog to reappear
for sacred wells to spring forth and  buried streams to reemerge from
sullen architecture to daylight themselves
returning cityscape to landscape
the hilly grasses growing lush and shaggy food for grazing goats
as we return to our own sacred wildness
with untamed hair and hearts torn open
holding each other on the balcony
listening to birds sing again
in the stillness of our room
Threatened and endangered species of the Golden Gate

View Jennifer Barone's work in the Library catalog


Poem of the Day
by Lance Henson
Amy Kimberly’s apt
San Francisco


Where am I waiting for you
Streets soaked in voices
This coffee cup filled with rain

The Paris sky grey orange
I walked into whatever light there was
Through small alleyways
Filled with forgotten names

In the chimbu highlands at monsoon
With Papua New Guinea poets in a tin shack
We read poems
After they shared their last bread with me
Our words touching us quietly
Into the deep night

Soon after waking in Chang Mai
I remembered dreaming of a white field of skulls
In Rwanda
The only darkness
The holes where their eyes were

This San Francisco morning
I remember the war that Is here
And inside a gust of wind through the curtains
The great memory that waits

Wanting to cross over
From the other side

View Lance Henson's work in the Library catalog



“That’s Not Politics”
by Greer Nakadegawa Lee


we commonly set fewer women on fire.
Is that leading by example?

Half the country is afraid of dying like fish
open mouth unhinged towards the sky
pale stomach full of hooks,
not a decent death,
the death of salt slipping from fingertips.
Not making a sound when you hit rock bottom
we commonly set fewer women on fire.
What does that mean to the memories of flaming corpses.
Time of death for the witch,
half past the hour,
let's put her etching into the newspaper,
I’ll tell you about it in my next letter,
I’ll play it for you on the radio
I’ll text you the video,
we’ll all watch her burn together,
it is not a decent death.
Livestreaming screaming
the hand lurches in the burning and the chat goes wild,
she floats
charred on the wind
and the messages pour in over the empty pyre,
“I don’t even know what I’m doing here.”

Video: Greer Nakadegawa Lee at the Oakland Public Library


Califas, My California, Mi Amor
by MK Chavez


Hummingbird heart over golden rolling hills,
please know that it’s not your beaches
that make me love you,
it’s the fury in your liver
and your Marysville men & Chowchilla women
in my marrow.

Your thirst is drought and dry as bleached ocean bone.

I want your revolutionary hamlets,
your murder dubs,
your tenderloins,
wetlands and marshes,
your ghettos and devil mountains,
the ghosts of your failed missions,
abandoned caves, and your sunken ships.

Bring me your she-bear, your grizzly.
Forever your strength.

Carnalita, your tongue, tan bilingua.  
Your glorious Spanglish.
Give me the Indigenous in you,
the we’ve been here longer
than you in you.

Califas, you are rainbow flag and stone butch.

Coastal Starlight, you travel through Cuesta Grande,
you are track marks all the way
 from the Chateau Marmot
to the emerald triangle.

My love—
you grow on the vine,
your wine, your Mexican tar,
you’re known for it.

You are wet-lands, delta, and once a year sandhill cranes.

You are monarch and pupa.

How I love to watch you emerge from your chrysalis.
Feed me your milkweed,
and non-native eucalyptus.

California your name is
Cherrie and Luis.

You are Barbary Coast, men fighting men over something that shines promise.

You are headlands, abandoned forts, sea lions, coastal range, and tulle elk.

California your malls bury your shell mounds
but this savage still prays for you.  

California you kill me—
but you are reluctant.

Flog and fog. You can be a cold mistress
but I like it when you wake,  
rise from the ocean and move over peaks.

Cali, your fissures are not your fault.

Golden arches of final goodbyes,
you are shark-infested waters
and El Capitan and the Salton Sea.

Califas, island of my spirit, untamable amazon,
last sanctuary for the estranged,
you hold my history
like the hidden Methuselah tree.

View MK Chavez's work in the Library catalog

Video: MK Chavez at the San Francisco Public Library



by Tehmina Khan


A necklace of scissors
                   Candles of remembrance

         A skeleton rising up in the
         graveyard for the murdered.

                             A vigil for the disappeared:


metal arts

figure drawing

Casualties of a war on creativity.

                         A green serpent with
                         a moneybag for a head,
                         fangs ready to pierce.

The last screen print from CCSF, three of them in a row.


A colorful fist raised.

Schedule of classes shredded into ribbons.


“LIES” written in red
over the promise of graduation.

                           “BS” over the slogan of
                           Students First.

                   Scissors, snip, cut, silence.

Testimony of immigrant women learning to weld.

               Dreams of city people, working people
               longing for words, numbers, stories, skills.

Dreams deferred. Who’s making a profit? 
                 Who is the green serpent with fangs pointed at us?

                 From a painting on the wall,
                                        Frida and Diego watch what we do.

They’ve been here before.

Video: Tehmina Khan at the San Francisco Public Library


by Thea Matthews


After Jericho Brown

In isolation I vow to remember
Your voice your contagious laugh your eyes.
Your smile as I stared into your eyes
One last time you still tug on my sheets.
This body alone rests on cold sheets.
Wrestling with the memories of you
I swear you cannot be gone in one breath. You
Remain intact within my pulse in hand.
And whether or not you feel hands
Embracing your face please know my fingers
Rest in the streams of your hair. My fingers
Count the distance of separation.
Whether you are six feet away or
In isolation I vow to remember.

Video: Thea Matthews at the San Francisco Public Library


by Lourdes Figueroa


and who will have the last word if not
the mountain up ahead
with a rising sun
if not the sudden blue of the skies
if not the howl of the wind within a long corridor of buildings
if not the reflection of light on a cobweb
if not the horizon up ahead dividing the land sea & sky
& the resting sunset
if not the bone bare yellow moon on a star full night
whom will have the last word
if not the chirp of a newborn sparrow
who will it be
and if not any of this
and if there is a last word
upon whose ears will it fall upon

no mi vida
no te rajes
con nuestras caras hacia al sol
sentimos el calor del amanecer
pronto llega el sol

pronto llega el sol
mi vida no te rajes
con nuestros ojos cerrados
hacia lo azul
va amanecer

Video: Lourdes Figueroa at the San Francisco Public Library


Pacifica, May 2020
by Ingrid Keir


Remember the dust of our ancestors tooth and bone
Their blood runs through me
as I dilate to the elementals that flow
a lifetime of grandmothers and grandfathers

Remember love at first touch exists
In this time of no-touching
Hydration, after a thirst so bottomless
seven layers deep

Lying in be
the glow of the universe spreads across the sky
lit by your hands
The lizard scales fall away
to a crimson rose, fragrant petals
I unfold myself into you
a teardrop carnelian

Along the shore
held by wildflowers and sand
Desire as an ever-changing kaleidoscope
I hear the hum of creation
Let us paint the story of beginnings

With your hands
spirals circumambulate my body
like Fibonacci’s golden ratio
sacred swirls, momentum,
clearing, initiation

To enter the erotic
through the gates of the unseen
A veiled dance behind silken strands
fingertips walk along skin

I have learned to love myself
planted my garden
which blooms, still,
after drought
after thirst
after desolation

Come closer
let me see the crystalline stars
held in your irises
as we walk the corona
crowned by interstellar luminosity

Video: Ingrid Keir at the San Francisco Public Library


Birth Poems 7/20/17
by Alexandra Kostoulas


Blue bird swinging on the lowest branch
watching over me
over the spirits of the unborn
as they make their way through the caul
into this gentle breeze
strips away the cool air from our breath
and 5 o’clock summer sun beats down unobstructed
all the birds and all the trees and all the
chimes in this back yard are one.

I am the old solid bark on the rusted deck
the convex shape in this whirling glass of water
the warbling the chirping the pre-dawn infinite
stretching into the corners of every lazy afternoon in late July
the red trumpet flowers of it all.
I give birth to this baby
I give birth to myself
birth to the infinite violet dusk over and over again.
Mirror inside mirror. Rainbow prism inside rainbow prism
I am alive even when I am no longer alive
Even 100 years from now
when all the butterflies are dead.
I will be encapsulated in this moment
right here in this city
my feet in flip flops
my hair a mess
a slouchy sweater falling off the backs of my bare shoulders
enjoying the sun glistening down on my olive skin.
Birds are overhead
This city that is so cruel to some
And so lucky for others.
In the middle of one of its many golden ages
I sit draped in a loose gray dress,
And realize these are
new ancestral lands
the 4 th generation San Franciscan
inside me eager to be born.



by James Siegel


We tried not to get too excited about it too soon ... So we waited patiently, quietly, to see how many this week’s mail would bring. And then there were none ... – Bay Area Reporter, August 1998

Summer in San Francisco is never this warm, yet here we are. Ninety degrees in August. The hottest day of the year.

The flowers have dragged their blooms from the basement. The fog packed away for another day. And this season’s crop of young men have shed their clothes on the lawns of Dolores Park. Their pale, bony torsos have turned to copper. Turned to mercury.

They are becoming something more. And now we see that anything is possible.

Even today’s news is possible. The front page fluttering on a park bench—No obits—as though death has quit his job, taken a much deserved rest.

For years the names poured in. A deluge. The editor’s inbox flooded with crisp white envelopes, handwritten return addresses staring back like an epitaph. Piles of human history type-spaced on an ancient typewriter. A life folded neatly—a shroud—holding a photo, the face of someone now gone, journeying off to the dark mystery we all fear.

Now the bay breeze flips the front page to the classifieds, the arts section, an ad for the opera, the Tea Room Theater. And the past comes back as a whisper—we were a generation betrayed by government. The face of Regan. Betrayed by a silence that shouted:

There is nothing to see here. There is nothing that can be done.

Our families buried us before we could die. And the family we adopted lived as they stood dying, refusing the betrayal of our own bodies. An inside job. Our cells resisting the cocktail of pills. Thrush and sarcoma.

And still we sipped sidecars with the North Beach crowds— the beat boys at Vesuvio, the queens of Finnochio’s on Broadway— because this life was worth hanging on to. Our halos cabaret lights burning until burning out.

Next week, perhaps next month, when September rolls off the ocean, the season will cool. The chill of mortality settling in the air.

But today the city is a warm hand. A lost friend inviting us to stretch our limbs on the green grass. To feel the sun’s rays on our skin. One day this will blink out. Fade away. Die. But not yet.

Not today.

View James Siegel's work in the Library catalog.


Infinite Definitions of Birth Right
by Lauren Ito


Is it place
Or people
Or textures
Or graves
Or lullabies caressing cheek



Or contorted masks in shapes we can’t bring ourselves to recognize anymore

I hitchhike towards mirages
Count mile markers in what grows beside the road
Who destroys it
How the invasive species are named
Where resilient blooms atop fault lines keep extinction at bay

And poetry becomes wills only some can inherit.

Tucking affirmations beneath toes at each bend
I ground prayers for cocooned comfort in given skin
As if we were destined to belong here
After all.



song of the four winds
by Carol Lee Sanchez


to inspire a careful language
cautious for other centuries-
we summon
these portfolios out of ourselves.

around us
the halls are crowded with name tags
immortalized in
gold leaf and celluloid

document the quiet change,
walk the edge of the unknown
planting specks of light to note
our discoveries.

the most useable path through oblivion
will bear the mark of
the careful explorers
we’ve become

will continue to prosper here,
unnoticed for awhile until
all the webs are untangled

and they will find us-
holding the ends of these threads
a smile caught between us.

View Carol Lee Sanchez's work in the Library catalog


What the Moon Said
by Paula Gunn Allen


The moon lives in all the alone places
all alone.
    “There are things
    I work out for myself,” she says.
    “You don’t have to be depressed about them.
    These are my paces, and walking through them
                                                                                               Is my right.
    You don’t need to care
                                                     when I’m down.
    “Or if I’m mad at myself, don’t believe
                                                                              I’m mad at you.
    If I glare it is not your face I am staring at
                                                                                but my own.
If I weep, it is not your tears that flow.
“And if I glow
with the brush of twilight wings,
if I rise round and warm
                           above your bed,
if I sail     
        through the iridescent
                   autumn spaces
heavy with promise,
              with red and fruity light,
and leave your breath
                tangled in the tossing tops
of trees as I arise,
as I speed away into the far distance,
disappearing as you gaze
turning silver, turning white
it is not your glory I reflect
It is not your love
         That makes me pink,
It is mine.”

The moon moves along the sky by her own willing.
It is her nature to shed some light, sometimes
To be full and close, heavy with unborn thought
On rising. It is her nature sometimes
to wander inn some distant place, hidden, absent, gone.

View Paula Gunn Allen's work in the Library catalog


by Tongo Eisen-Martin

A tour guide through your robbery
He also is

Cigarette saying, “look what I did about your silence.”

Ransom water and box spring gold
    -This decade is only for accent grooming, I guess

Ransom water and box spring gold
        -The corner store must die

War games, I guess

All these tongues rummage junk

The start of mass destruction
Begins and ends In restaurant bathrooms
That some people use
And other people clean

“?you telling me there’s a rag in the sky”
-waiting for you. yes-

we’ve written a scene
we’ve set a stage

we should have fit in. warehouse jobs are for communists. But now more corridor and hallway have walked into our lives. Now the whistling is less playful. The barbed wire is overcrowded too.


.My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison
.If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city

,When a courtyard talks on behalf of military issue
.all walks take place outside of the body
.Dear life to your left
.Medieval painting to your right
.None of this makes an impression
.Crop people living in thin air
You got five minutes
to learn how to see
.through this breeze
,When a mask goes sideways
.barbed wire becomes the floor
.Barbed wire becomes the roof
Forty feet into the sky
.becomes out of bounds
,When a mask breaks in half
.mind which way the eyes go


They’ve killed the world for the sake of giving everyone the same backstory

We’re watching Gary, Indiana fight itself into the sky

Old pennies for wind. For that wind you feel before the hood goes up and over your headache. Pennies that stick to each other (mocking all aspirations). Stuck together pennies was the first newspaper I ever read. Along with the storefront dwelling army that always lets us down.

Where the holy spirit favors the backroom. Souls in a situation that offer one hundred ways to remain a loser. Souls watching the clock hoping that eyes don’t lie to sad people.


"?what were we talking about again"
the narrator asked the graveyard
-ten minutes flat-
said the graveyard
-the funeral only took ten minutes-
",never tell anyone that again"
the narrator severely replied


“You just going to pin the 90s on me?”
-all thirty years of them-
“Then why should I know the difference between sleep and satire?”

    the pyramid of corner stores fell on our heads
        -we died right away

    that building wants to climb up and jump off another building
        -these are downtown decisions
            somewhere on this planet, it is august 7th

and we’re running down the rust thinking, “one more needs to come with me”

on earth, so
that we could
be sent back

View Tongo Eisen-Martin's work in the Library catalog

Video: Tongo Eisen-Martin at the San Francisco Public Library



by Jack Hirschman


From a magic 

strange and 


a word-drunk,

a mad poet, 

a bender of 

images into


a vessel hauling

alphabets to

the senses,

a loyalist 

to the Muse,

a translator with

no frontiers,


I sang this

No Bich



and loved 

in its still 



tasted death

here from 




indeed loved

here much 


and many,

let time

have its way

in simplifying

the tears 

my pen wept

every day,

until all I am

is this friend

and comrade

in the sun

under stars

to those


who live 

and work

the world


fanfare or


whose lives

grow clearer,

whose feet

are visited

by birds,

whose hands

are blessed 




whose hearts

amid the

buying and

selling of

their Third

floor and the


of their 


still walk

this village

as if


were the




ground in

the world,

and how




under any





kind of




   *Haitian for North Beach

View Jack Hirschman's work in the library catalog



Washing My Hands
by Kitty Costello


Something quivers at the brink of my skin

where I thought I end but don’t.

Edges have gone all blurry

like a rainy night under Paris streetlamps.

Distance is rearranged.

Surpassing is the new way of things,

going beyond anything we thought

could hold us close or keep us safe

or shut us in, proximity superseded.


Prayer was always seeping through walls,

penetrating to bedsides, to gravesides

of those unseen, afar.

Longing was always perpetrating

the quiet of my heart.

Hearing remains just out of earshot,

the cries of the world entering

through some long-forgotten sense gate,

tears spilling from ancient fountains we

did not fashion and will never drain,

no matter how long our sirens wail.


This indelible something


uniting everything

as it ravages the known,

water pouring

through mortal fingers.


Kitty Costello, 3/27/20

View Kitty Costello's work in the library catalog



There Is No Word for Goodbye
by Mary TallMountain


Sokoya, I said, looking through

        the net of wrinkles into

        wise black pools

        of her eyes,


What do you say in Athabaskan 

        when you leave each other?

        What is the word

        for goodbye?


A shade of feeling rippled

        the wind-tanned skin.

        Ah, nothing, she said,

        watching the river flash.


She looked at me close

        We just say Tlaa. That means,

        See you.

        We never leave each other.

        When does your mouth 

        say goodbye to your heart?


She touched me light

        as a bluebell.

        You forgot when you leave us,

        You're so small then

        We don't use that word.


We always think you're coming back,

        but if you don't,

        we'll see you someplace else.

        You understand,

        There is no word for goodbye.


“Sokoya” means “Aunt” in the Athabaskan language

by Mary TallMountain


View Mary TallMountain's work in the library catalog


Princess Days
by Paul Corman-Roberts



                     the wreath

                     the ring

                     the circle

                     the crown:


a teenage saint


            a B list princess


takes the time each day and night

                       to ask blessing

                       from the four elements

and yes, perhaps the fifth

is needed:


We reach out to the future

with all our love

            our blessings

            our prayers and passion

from the edge of a blade


without a notion as to who


                                   or how

you might be.


Our brightest minds at the pleasure

                                      of our grimmest hearts

have concluded we must shelter in place

at the precise moment our faith in ourselves

               has reached a fork in the blade.


Paul Corman-Roberts

View Paul Corman-Roberts' work in the library catalog

Video: Paul Corman-Roberts at the San Francisco Public Library


A Short History of Journey
by Aileen Cassinetto


The fault, dear Arcturus, is not in your star.

I’m afraid we misread the swells 

like explorers mistaking one continent for another. 


“Columbus stretched out Asia eastward until Japan almost kissed the Azores.”

“The Chinese treasure fleet had been mothballed long before Magellan set to sea."


In other words, they were imprecise, and they perished.


(Behold the flight of birds on rarefied air, 

from breeding ground to wintering ground. 

Behold intention, and it’s kin, precision.)


Be that as it may, we were always meant for motion.


See how the Silk Road was paved with horses’ bones. 

And more than smuggled silkworm, it brought sugar, silver, 

paper—utter world changer.


See how the Spice Trade flourished,

shoring up an empire, its galleons—implacable bearers of a slave 

trade from Manila to Acapulco.


The world got its cinnamon, its cocoa, its cassia and cardamom,

 its lapis lazuli, and its Balas Ruby—ancient and sapphire-veined.

We got wanderlust. 


And the bravest of us looked up and remembered everything—

the fixed star, the dippers, the king, the queen, the bear-keeper—

rubescent and fourth brightest in all the night sky, dearest,


remembered also the cardinal of old fields and every roadside—

brilliantly blue and sometimes true—in the same night sky, 

roaming its way home.


Aileen Cassinetto, poet laureate of San Mateo County

View Aileen Cassinetto's work in the Library Catalog



From Below the Belt
by Bill Vartnaw

                       for David Meltzer 
                                            Man’s splender 
                                   is a question of which  
                                                   —Charles Olson 
a story has rained, 
reigned upon our (un- &) conscious minds 
“…whether we chose 
to believe it or not,” 
the dream comes (with its uni-verse) 
like the flooding of the Nile 
& each flood, its variations, 
whether spiritual, biological 
psychological &/or political; 
each must touch the body of man/woman 
either building it, stretching it 
molding, breaking or killing it… 
let us turn each flood into a growing season 
food for the body, food for thought 
we can, we must feed each  
other;  we are all other 
not the quick advertisement they/we are selling 
we must prepare for the next deluge 
it will come 
dig your ditches soon enough; 
dig them deep (far & wide) enough 
to handle the next inundation 
Remember to turn the soil, open the Earth  
for the story moves us forward 
or we do not move forward. 
we know it is made up 
with words we use everyday 
& dreams we have dreamt, 
whether we remember them or not 
& that somewhere, the word 
for our “dream” is but one letter away 
from becoming “comfort, salvation, 
peace…”  the right combination 
of our conscious blood, sweat &  
laughter  (tears, like the flood, are  
a gift) can change this word to the one   
we think is "better or richer or true…" 

Bill Vartnaw, former poet laureate of Sonoma County

View Bill Vartnaw's work in the Library catalog

Video: Bill Vartnaw at the Library


Stubborn weeds
by Shizue Seigel

I love my neighborhood of stubborn weeds
I’m praying that COVID came just in time to rescue it
from total eradication, preserving the last of the grit
from million-dollar scrubs of virgin
olive oil, oatmeal and sage by the pampered who
can afford to bathe their skins with what lesser folk could eat.
I’m hoping this scare will slow them down
like the bursting of dot.com bubble v. 1
or the 1989 earthquake.
It used to be that coastal fog was enough
to keep out those who did not love this land
and its fragile interface with sea and 
sky sometimes unseen all summer long.
Morning fog tendrils, microdroplets
bursting against our cheek, reminded us
like warning blasts and mournful bellows
signaling ships at sea and landlubbers alike
that we are all adrift on life—reality rising and falling
heaving and lulling, by turns.
There are no guarantees 
Only the invitation to risk
We are a hardy people
buckwheat and sorrel
plantains, dandelions and succulents.
Look down your nose at us,
Endulge yourself elsewhere
with showy blooms and gourmet grazings.
We are a plain people whose meager dollars
sent a generation to college so
they could look down at us, too.
They have yet to learn
there are no guarantees except
death comes
to all of us in the end.
Life is how you 
meet it.


Poem for Michael McClure
by Kim Shuck

The bridge meant fishing and floodwater
Like all good symbols
It was mostly borrowed and they’ve
Renamed the river
But the part that’s mine
That little experience
The wood shudder
Running mostly down from Kansas
The part that’s mine will die with me
And there will still be a river
You wouldn’t stop playing with my hair
So I tugged the braid away
And smacked you with it
And we both laughed
A moment I have taken with me
As I roll on over flint
All the way
Down to Grand Lake